Fishin’ for Tradition: The Lutefisk Saga

Film review

The Lutefisk Saga

Photos courtesy of Films of Norway
Norwegian-American chefs do not prepare lutefisk the same way as in Norway.

GEIR MÆLAND
Films of Norway

Have you ever tasted lutefisk? Well, my guess is that you either loved it, or hated it. The taste, look, and structure are so special, so unusual, that one cannot remain “neutral.”

If you haven’t tasted lutefisk yet, my advice is: Do it! You may consider putting it on your bucket list. You cannot die without having experienced this rather strange dish.

Now, you might ask, is this a movie review or a cooking blog? 

I have no skills at all to share with you when it comes to making lutefisk. 

But since this is actually the topic of the documentary, I am sharing my thoughts around and the fact that I have eaten quite a lot of lutefisk, gives me some experience in the field, so here we go …

The film starts on location in Lofoten, Norway, where the fish is being caught, processed, and then transported to the United States.

We then get to know more about the distribution in the United States, taking us to what is really interesting: Who are these people who eat it? What does the dish look like? How does it taste?

The way it is prepared and served in the United States is quite different from the Norwegian way of doing it. I was really shocked to see what they do to it “over there.” The way it is cooked seemed to be by far “overcooked.” They do not serve it with green peas and mustard sauce (very important!), and then, they totally miss out on the bacon and instead drown the fish in melted butter. Uff da!

As you might know, part of the lutefisk preparation is to marinate it for some time in caustic soda. Now, this is a process that I would never trust myself in doing and would not trust anyone else, unless they had some experience. If done badly, it will probably taste horrible, and, in the worst case, it could be fatal. I cannot say from watching the movie how the fish tasted, of course, but I must say it didn’t look very appealing.

Then, another rather shocking experience revealed in this movie is that the Norwegian Americans combine lutefisk with lefse and call it a lutefisk taco.

Wow, now that is something to write home about! In regard to this matter, I would still be too skeptical to taste this rather strange dish, but, my goodness, I love the creativity and flexibility of these people and what they come up with—I am impressed!

One thing that strikes me is that most of the people in the lutefisk community are in older age groups. This, of course, is fine, but does it mean that young Norwegian Americans are not keeping up this tradition? I hope they will, as I think it is important to keep up the traditions and culture from the old country. 

After watching this cute little documentary, I have two wishes that I will try to make come true:

To be able to join one of these events and be able to present and serve lutefisk “the Norwegian way;” and

To produce a follow-up documentary (this time from Norway) and be able to show it on a big screen on one of the lutefisk events in United States. 

So, let’s see what happens when these restricted times are over and we are all free to travel, eat, and meet again. I look forward to it, and in the meantime, I wish you happy streaming while enjoying Fishin’ for Tradition: The Lutefisk Saga!

Fishin’ for Tradition: The Lutefisk Saga!

Available for streaming at www.filmsofnorway.com

Director: Eric Nelson 

Production: Heavy Visuals Storyboard

Year:  2009

Run time:  26 minutes 

Genre:  Short documentary

This article originally appeared in the April 23, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Geir Mæland

Geir Mæland

Geir Mæland is the founder and manager of Films of Norway, a Norwegian film-streaming service based in Stavanger, Norway.

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